Wednesday, October 19, 2011
The evolution of Ryan McDonagh continues and with each passing game the 22-year-old defender takes his game to another level for the New York Rangers. Last week I took a look at how far McDonagh has come since last year at this time and that he has developed into a top caliber defender that has made the loss of Marc Staal significantly less noticeable than many would have expected. Last night was another example of how McDonagh not only is taking on the challenge of filling the huge void Marc Staal’s absence leaves on the blue line defensively, but his offense is evolving. When discussing his offense last week I wrote:
Offensively McDonagh is still a work in progress, but he is gaining in confidence. The confidence shows itself in him having less hesitation to shoot the puck or even join the rush. Joining the rush got the Rangers in trouble in the first game when he was called for a phantom penalty in the offensive zone, but the aggressiveness is something the Rangers want to see more of from him.
The confidence was on full display in the third period against the Canucks as McDonagh pinched deep finding himself open in the slot to take the Brandon Dubinsky feed and beat Roberto Luongo for the Rangers second goal. Scoring the goal on emboldened McDonagh to be more aggressive on the offensive end and he showed that he can combine his tremendous skating ability with skill and instincts as he danced around would be defenders and then made a perfect pass to Marian Gaborik for a tap-in goal late in the final period.
When healthy, the New York Rangers possess arguably the best top four on defense in the NHL as each of Staal, Girardi, McDonagh and Sauer can play against top lines and be a shutdown defender. The problem with that grouping is that none of them have truly been able to be a consistent threat on the other end of the ice, but McDonagh has those type of skills if he remains confident in his game. The Rangers are certainly hoping that Michael Del Zotto and Tim Erixon can use their noted offensive skills to provide that threat from the blue line and combine with the shutdown defenders to make a formidable defensive corps.
There has always been hope that Staal would take another step offensively and he has shown those flashes, but of the top four from last season it might be McDonagh who is best equipped to become the complete package as a two-way defender. McDonagh was originally seen as an offensively skilled defender when he was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens 12th overall in 2007, but his focus shifted to defense first during his time at Wisconsin. Now that he has established he is more than capable of being an excellent defensive defender at the NHL level, and the confidence that comes with that, McDonagh can allow his natural talents to display themselves offensively.
There are few who doubt that McDonagh is going to be a stalwart in the NHL for a long time regardless of whether the offense ever fully develops, but with each step forward his offense takes, the ceiling for him grows exponentially. Aside from the stellar start of Henrik Lundqvist and possibly the play of Dan Girardi, the elevation and maturation of Ryan McDonagh to start his second season has been the biggest positive of this young season for the New York Rangers.
The New York Rangers tallied their first win of the 2011-12 season by defeating the Vancouver Canucks 4-0. That score is in no way indicative of the game that happened in Vancouver this evening. New York scored all their goals in the final 20 minutes and if not for the stellar work of Henrik Lundqvist the Rangers would have been blown out before the final period even began.
Lundqvist was unbelievable on the night making 40 saves to record his 36th career shutout. Lundqvist kept the Rangers alive for two periods as they were outshout 28-9 before the rest of the team decided they wanted to join in on the action.
Mike Rupp kicked off the scoring 2:22 into the final period when he converted a Michael Del Zotto rebound in behind Roberto Luongo. This was the kind of goal the Rangers have not been getting thus far and gave them the surprising 1-0 lead. Lundqvist would be tested and make a couple of huge saves to keep at 1-0 before the Rangers opened the floodgates.
Ryan McDoangh made it 2-0 at 9:57 when he took a beautiful feed from Brandon Dubinsky in the slot and fired it over Luongo’s shoulder. Brian Boyle made it 3-0 when he took a great saucer pass from Ruslan Fedotenko on the type of shift that the line was known for last season. Brandon Prust won a great battle in the defensive zone, played the puck ahead to Fedotenko who found Boyle for the finish.
McDonagh would get in the act again with just 2:21 left when he did his best Brian Leetch impression dancing through the Vancouver defense and finding Marian Gaborik wide open at the side of the net for the tap-in.
- Lundqvist showed tonight that the only thing standing between him and a Vezina, if not a Hart trophy this year is the play of the rest of his team.
- McDonagh was a beast tonight on both ends of the ice and his growth continues to astound.
- Del Zotto was excellent on the goal and then proceeded to screw up much of the good will immediately after when Edler schooled him and then took a penalty.
- Brandon Dubinsky has been awful so far this year and his penalties are hurting the team severely.
- Callahan has done little to nothing since the first game
- Prust went from benched and in the doghouse during the second period to have two assists
- The penalties still need to end